The coronavirus pandemic is exposing the true condition of education across the United States. Many schools and districts have quickly transitioned to meaningful and measurable virtual education. In places that were not prepared for a crisis, the responsibility for figuring out how and when to educate students has been punted from the state departments of education, to the districts, to the schools, to the teachers and, ultimately, to parents.
In Missouri, the Department of Elementary and Secondary Education (DESE) has not provided clear guidance to school districts beyond “schools should focus on whatever alternative methods of instruction best support students.” DESE’s COVID-19 information website focuses largely on calculating average daily attendance, school finances, and serving students with special needs. By contrast, the New Mexico Public Education Department (PED) is requiring each district to create Continuous Learning Plans with minimum required minutes of instruction each day, based on grade level.
Local control is all well and good, except when it includes the local option of not teaching students at all. Some Missouri districts are advising schools and teachers that have already set up a virtual platform, like Microsoft Teams, to go ahead and use them. What about those that haven’t? Florida is offering $200 stipends to teachers who complete virtual instruction training. What is Missouri doing to equip all teachers?
It is undoubtedly overwhelming to millions of parents to become homeschoolers overnight. It is insufficient to simply point them to a webpage with “resources.” It is inequitable to have students whose teachers who were already leaning into the use of technology continue to receive instruction while others get little or none.
Next fall, when schools and teachers complain about how far students have fallen behind, we need to ask our public education leaders why we weren’t better prepared to serve all students in a crisis.